In July, Pittsburgh’s unemployment rate was reported at it’s highest in 23 years at 7.6 per cent according to the latest numbers from the state Department of Labor & Industry. As the Section 3 Coordinator in the East Liberty community, the goal of Kevin Mickens is to have the unemployment numbers lowered in East Liberty by providing residents with jobs.
|A JOB IN THE MAKING—Kevin Mickens, East Liberty’s Section 3 Coordinator assists Lucretia Morris in her job quest.
“There’s a lot of connecting going on,” he says. Working in conjunction with East Liberty Development, Inc. and the Coalition of Organized Residents of East Liberty, Mickens’ purpose is to ensure that residents most in need of employment can take advantage of the available and upcoming opportunities throughout the area.
In charge of the facilitation of commercial and residential development over the last 10 years, ELDIs’ mission has been to foster the revitalization of the East Liberty community. The group works in collaboration with community stakeholders, acting as a catalyst for positive change by providing leadership in the areas of planning, advocacy, image building and investment. Their activity throughout the years has included the development of 378 residential units, 152,000 square feet of commercial space and a 12,000 square foot community performing arts center.
ELDI officials report that from 2002 through 2007 a total of $96 million in development has been leveraged. Existing commercial projects have been East Side ll and the Village of East Side. The two developments consist of the Whole Foods Market, Borders, Starbucks Coffee Company, PNC Bank, Walgreen’s, FedEx Kinko’s, T-Mobile, a specialty Wine and Spirits, Eva Szabo, TREK Bicycle, a Taste of Chocolate, Staples and Trader Joe’s. Housing developments has included the Fairfield Apartments, Negley Neighbors, the Sojourner House MOMS, Dad’s Safe Haven and money has been invested into Home Mortgage Programs.
Enthusiastic about his mandate to create linkages between residents and available opportunities, Mickens said, “People want employment and it’s up to me to match employers with employees.” He pointed out that East Liberty is in the mist of a spectacular recovery from years of disinvestment and decline. “Urban renewal and declining property values left the community with a high concentration of extremely low income residents. Now that there is a resurgence of private investment and an effort to restore the neighborhood scale fabric that existed prior, it is imperative that the families who stuck with East Liberty through the disinvestment and decline be given an opportunity to remain and prosper from the revitalization.”
Under the watchful eye of the Coalition of Organized Residents of East Liberty and following Section 3 of the HUD Act, residents in the 15206 area code are in position to prosper from the development in the area. With the capacity to ensure all of East Liberty’s residents have access to jobs and quality housing, COR was formed as a consortium of resident councils in three project-based Section 8 properties, East Mall, Penn Circle and Liberty Park (a Federal American Property). The groups’ primary purpose is to organize, advocate and negotiate for residents of low-income housing and promote the quality of life. Mickens points out that throughout its history COR has been instrumental in acting as a voice for residents who have had little voice.
The East Liberty Section 3 Initiative is designed to help current and former residents of FAP and other low-income residents gain access to economic opportunities that are being generated as a result of the East Liberty revitalization. It also helps employers on publicly-funded projects meet their training, employment and contracting obligations. Section 3 of the HUD Act was originally written in 1968 and rewritten and strengthened in 1992 as a response to the Watts and Rodney King riots in California.
In compliance with Section 3 and to fill the need to connect people with skills in the neighborhood to jobs in the community, COR has assembled a database of more than 200 low income residents actively seeking work while ELDI has established relationships with developers, contractors and retail business owners open to hiring.
As a result of the construction and development going on, my goal is to assist residents in creating a career ladder,” said Mickens. “There are a lot of jobs available, a person just has to identify what they want and apply.” He continued by pointing out that jobs range from entry level positions to construction work that occurs in steps and phases. “Some jobs provide short term opportunities that launches into careers through apprenticeship programs while others develop into long term situations.” He identified retail, the hotel industry, property management, maintenance and construction as a few possibilities. “Even construction breaks down into many aspects inclusive of laborers, plumbers, carpenters, electricians, machine operators and painters,” he said. He pointed out that the East Liberty Section 3 Job Training & Referral Initiative is always accepting resumes for immediate openings in the construction and building trade.
Familiar with the community from growing up in Garfield, Mickens said the residents have many needs and barriers that he helps them work through. A social worker by trade, he uses the many organizations within the area as resources to help the people and has established relationships with education and job training programs. He uses the employment centers in Garfield, the Homewood YMCA and CareerLinks, which provides resume and job development assistance. He maintains close relationships with employers assessing what skills are needed for jobs and monitors employees’ job performances once hired.
ELDI officials contribute the vision for East Liberty’s development, economic and culture success throughout the past decade to a community plan organized by utilizing the impute of neighborhood stakeholders and residents from meetings, surveys, interviews and other data collection.
Still flourishing, the area will soon be the home of Bakery Square, the former Nabisco factory which will consist of an urban lifestyle center housing retail, offices, a fitness center and a120-room hotel. The former Kirkwood Hotel will be revitalized into the Montrose Exchange Hotel possessing a 140-room boutique hotel, office space and retail. Five other buildings are being restored as part of the project along with one being constructed and dedicated to retail and office space. A Target is also a part of the expected development.
“East Liberty is becoming a very welcoming area,” said Kirsten Womack co-owner of the Penn Avenue Mail Center located in the Village of East Side. “My husband Clarence and I are excited about the development and look forward to Target and Bakery Square coming to the area which provides jobs and stability to a once fledgling community.”